An appreciation of Eric Liddell published in “The Student” on the news of his death.
With the death of Eric Liddell Edinburgh University and Scotland have lost one who was without exaggeration a giant of athleticism. Essentially a runner, he played Rugger for the University and for Scotland in 22-23. He was a person whose principles and beliefs were never outswayed by the many brilliant successes which he obtained. At University, Liddell studied for his BSc., and it was at the Graduation Ceremony at which he was capped that the following incident occurred:
“When he stepped forward to receive his degree, the Professor of Greek rose and read a Greek ode in his honour, and then bestowed a garland of laurel. A storm of cheering greeted this unique honour. Scarcely was the graduation ceremony ended when the students rushed the platform and took the Vice-Chancellor (Principal Sir Alfred Ewing) and their garlanded hero, in his hood and gown, to an open carriage. With scores on the ropes and hundreds as an escort, they drew the carriage at a smart pace in triumphal fashion past the University, up High Street-the Royal Mile, where for centuries our reigning monarchs have ridden in state. Along Princes Street the cheering procession passed. Citizens who were favoured with this unusual sight were quick to observe the garlanded youth seated beside the well-known Principal, and, catching the enthusiasm of the moment, saluted, then joined in the delight of the youthful throng.” (1)
“The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you, shoulder high.”
Housman’s poem seems all too prophetic, although it was not death but a calling to the mission fields of China that bore Liddell away while at the prime of his career. What more the “Flying Scot” might have done had he remained in this country will for ever be a matter for speculation. While sportsmen meet and talk together (which, please God, they may always do) Eric Liddell will never be forgotten. His name is a legend, and how he won the quarter mile at Stoke has been described as the greatest track performance ever seen.
“The runners were started on the bend, Liddell having the inside berth, but the Scot had only taken three strides when Gillis, England, crashed into him and knocked him off the track. He stumbled on the grass, and for a moment seemed half inclined to give up. Then suddenly he sprang forward, and was after his opponents like a flash. By this time the leaders were about twenty yards ahead, but Liddell gradually drew up on them, and by the time the home straight was reached he was running fourth. He would be about ten yards behind Gillis then.” It seemed out of the question that he could win, but he achieved the apparently impossible. Forty yards from home he was third, and seemed on the point of collapsing, but pulling himself together he put in a desperate finish to win by two yards from Gillis- -a glorious winner of a sensational race.” (2)
(1) Reprinted by kind permission of the Scotsman.
(2) Reprinted by kind permission of the Evening Dispatch